With physical education classes starting at 7:30 a.m. every school day, the student activity center located at the east end of Greenwood Community High School is the site of activity into most evenings.

As many as an estimated 1,100 students enter the 30,000-square-foot building daily to take part in school-related activities ranging from classes to color guard, band or sports practices.

In many cases, the same students will come into the center for different activities throughout the day.

One group leaves, another takes its place, often until at least 8 p.m.

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At a cost of $4.9 million, Greenwood became the second Johnson County high school to construct a student activity center, or fieldhouse, designed to provide teachers and coaches scheduling options beyond the main gymnasium and its balconies.

Franklin Community High School opened its fieldhouse as part of the new school in August 2007; Center Grove’s 59,500-square-foot student activity center is scheduled to open in November.

Greenwood’s facility opened in January and has three basketball courts, a two-lane running track circling the courts and a balcony that can be used during band practices, Greenwood athletics director Rob Irwin said.

“There are all kinds of people wanting to use it. It’s full to almost 8 o’clock almost every night,” Irwin said.

Among the first of the Woodmen athletics programs eager to take advantage of the newfound space were girls and boys track and field. In winters past, it was common for Greenwood athletes to conduct sprint work in the school hallways after school.

The activity center’s running track is just short of 200 meters. It is constructed with a cushioned surface, which is much easier on an athlete’s joints.

“It’s been great for us so far. We’ve been in there practically every day, which saves us from pounding on these tile hallway floors,” track coach Blaine Williams said. “We know there’s a guaranteed space that we’re going to have.”

Williams’ winter conditioning sessions drew 40 to 75 track athletes several days a week, and their workouts took up two of the basketball courts.

Being able to work out in the new building also boosted the athletes’ collective morale, said junior Conner Terhune, who competes in the 800- and 1,600-meter runs for the Woodmen boys track program.

“I like it a lot because it’s given us a place to just warm up and do stuff that we’ve not been able to do in the hallways,” Terhune said. “We are more excited to come to practice now because we actually have a place to go. Before, we would have been outside the cafeteria running in the hallways.”

Scheduling activities and practices inside the facility falls on Irwin, and he is working with the youth girls and boys basketball and volleyball coaches to find time for the third- through eighth-graders to practice in the fieldhouse.

In years past, these squads practiced either at Westwood Elementary School or Greenwood Middle School. With high school activities deemed top priority, youth programs typically have access to the activity center during the early evening hours.

“For the most part, we’re able to house a good share of those now,” Irwin said.

“Our policy is it has to be Greenwood kids. It has to be Greenwood teams. My general rule is that if it’s not Greenwood kids, then they don’t get to use our facility.”

Greenwood High School offers 19 sports, which translates into great demand for the activity center at all levels.

Janae Johnson, a sophomore hurdler for the Woodmen who also runs cross country and is a cheerleader, will no doubt be taking advantage of the activity center plenty.

“I think it’s really beneficial because it gives the athletes more space,” Johnson said. “We were all waiting for it to open because there are so many sports every season, so you’re limited with space.”

Busy time at Center Grove

The construction continues at Center Grove High School, where an activity center priced at just under $10 million is scheduled to open in November.

Athletics director Jon Zwitt recognizes he and assistant athletics director Scott Knapp are part of a major project. It’s their responsibility to determine practice times.

“As we get closer to the opening, Scott and I will sit down and take a look at who’s going to be in there and who’s going to occupy the space,” Zwitt said. “I would say probably this summer we will spend a lot of time on that.

“In actuality, we schedule so much of the building now that it’s going to actually make Scott’s job easier. He’ll have more space to give people instead of saying no all of the time.”

Zwitt points out any past rejections when it came to booking practice space weren’t to Center Grove High School programs. They were the numerous youth teams, bantam programs, AAU groups and travel teams that couldn’t always be satisfied.

A rental cost to outside groups has yet to be determined, according to Zwitt.

“That and several others are questions yet to be discussed,” he said. “We have a payment structure in place for all of our other venues that are rented out, but the student activity center will need to be added to that list.”

“I’m looking forward to having more space and more facilities. It gets difficult saying no, so now we’ll have the opportunity to allow those people to have those opportunities.”

The center will include four courts that can serve volleyball or basketball and a six-lane running track measuring 200 meters. Also, there will be two elevated walking/jogging lanes and room for field events in track (high jump, long jump, shot put, discus, pole vault).

Physical education classes will also benefit from the additional space, as will other school activities such as band and cheerleading.

Zwitt and Knapp will soon begin determining who gets to use the activity center and for how long. Center Grove High School activities, athletic or otherwise, are the first priority, Zwitt said.

After that, he’ll consider requests from area youth teams, such as the bantam program or AAU teams. Only non-Center Grove teams will be required to pay to use the facility.

Should a specific time slot remain available, it can be filled to any outside group on a first come, first serve basis.

By next winter, the boys and girls track and field athletes accustomed to working out in the hallways and inside Vandermeer Gymnasium will be able to train for the upcoming season in a far more spacious environment.

Wes Dodson, who coaches girls cross-country and girls track at Center Grove, isn’t concerned about there being enough room or time for everyone once construction is completed.

“The space is really going to help us out,” he said. “Yes, there might be some scheduling issues, but the advantages of having all of that extra space far outweigh any concerns about scheduling.

“The coaches here all work well together. I think we’re going to be all right.”

While Dodson’s athletes used the school’s Hall of Excellence for preseason conditioning during particularly cold days, boys track and field athletes conditioned inside Vandermeer.

Meanwhile, Center Grove softball players can be seen working out in the West Balcony of Vandermeer (construction on the activity center made it so all weight room equipment had to be moved to the East Balcony).

The plan is for these programs and others to conduct practice sessions in the activity center when poor weather conditions make it difficult to do so outside.

At a glance

A look at some of the activity complexes at county high schools:

Greenwood

Opened: January 9, 2017

Square footage: 30,000

Price: $4.9 million

Includes: Three basketball courts, two-lane running track.

Center Grove

Opens: November 2017

Square footage: 59,500

Price: Just under $10 million

Includes: Four basketball courts, six-lane running track, weight room expansion from 4,737 square feet to 7,639 square feet.

Did you know?: A total of 76 concrete panels ranging in weight from 35,000 pounds to 75,000 pounds each were used to construct the walls of the activity center.

Author photo
Mike Beas is a sports writer for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at mbeas@dailyjournal.net.